Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.
Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court
State v. Benson, 600 S.W.3d 896, 902-03 (Tenn. 2020).
Questions involving the propriety of jury instructions are mixed questions of law and fact. State v. Cole-Pugh, 588 S.W.3d 254, 259-60 (Tenn. 2019) (citing State v. Perrier, 536 S.W.3d 388, 396 (Tenn. 2017)). Accordingly, our standard of review is de novo with no presumption of correctness. Id.
Defendants have a constitutional right to complete and accurate jury instructions on the law. Cole-Pugh, 588 S.W.3d at 260. The failure to properly administer jury instructions can deprive a defendant of his constitutional right to a jury trial. Id. In criminal cases, a trial court’s duty to accurately instruct the jury on relevant legal principles exists without request. State v. Hawkins, 406 S.W.3d 121, 129 (Tenn. 2013) (citing State v. Dorantes, 331 S.W.3d 370, 390 (Tenn. 2011)); see also Cole-Pugh, 588 S.W.3d at 260. Further, a “ ‘defendant has a right to have every issue of fact raised by the evidence and material to his defense submitted to the jury upon proper instructions by the judge.’ ” State v. Sims, 45 S.W.3d 1, 9 (Tenn. 2001) (quoting State v. Thompson, 519 S.W.2d 789, 792 (Tenn. 1975)). If a trial court refuses to charge a jury with a special instruction, it will only be considered error if the general charge did not fully and fairly state the applicable law. Hawkins, 406 S.W.3d at 129 (citations omitted); see also Perrier, 536 S.W.3d at 403 (quoting State v. Faulkner, 154 S.W.3d 48, 58 (Tenn. 2005)) (“ ‘An instruction should be considered prejudicially erroneous only if the jury charge, when read as a whole, fails to fairly submit the legal issues or misleads the jury as to the applicable law.’ ”).
A statute provides that trial courts need not submit “[t]he issue of the existence of a defense … to the jury unless it is fairly raised by the proof.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-203(c) (2018); Hawkins, 406 S.W.3d at 129. This statute was enacted as part of the 1989 Criminal Sentencing Reform Act and has not been amended since its enactment. Therefore, the Sentencing Commission Comments remain applicable and state that under this statute, “[t]he defendant has the burden of introducing admissible evidence that a defense is applicable.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-203, Cmts. of the Tenn. Sentencing Comm’n. According to Hawkins, self-defense is a general defense and “the quantum of proof necessary to fairly raise a general defense is [something] less than [what is] required to establish a proposition by a preponderance of the evidence.” Hawkins, 406 S.W.3d at 129. When determining if a defense has been fairly raised by the proof, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant, including all reasonable inferences that can be made in the defendant’s favor. Id. If a general defense is found to be fairly raised by the proof, the trial court must submit the defense to the jury and the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense does not apply. Perrier, 536 S.W.3d at 403.
Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
State v. Murphy, No. E2022-00605-CCA-R3-CD, p. 12 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 1, 2023).
“It is well-settled in Tennessee that a defendant has a right to a correct and complete charge of the law so that each issue of fact raised by the evidence will be submitted to the jury on proper instructions.” State v. Farner, 66 S.W.3d 188, 204 (Tenn. 2001) (citations omitted). Accordingly, trial courts have the duty to give “a complete charge of the law applicable to the facts of the case.” State v. Davenport, 973 S.W.2d 283, 287 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1998) (citing State v. Harbison, 704 S.W.2d 314, 319 (Tenn. 1986)). An erroneous jury instruction may deprive the defendant of his constitutional right to a jury trial. State v. Garrison, 40 S.W.3d 426, 433-34 (Tenn. 2000). As part of their instructions in criminal cases, trial courts must describe and define each element of the offense or offenses charged. State v. Faulkner, 154 S.W.3d 48, 58 (Tenn. 2005). An instruction will be considered prejudicially erroneous only if it fails to submit the legal issues fairly or misleads the jury as to the applicable law. Id. at *9 (citing State v. Vann, 976 S.W.2d 93, 101 (Tenn. 1998)). We review the propriety of the jury instructions de novo with no presumption of correctness. State v. Perrier, 536 S.W.3d 388, 403 (Tenn. 2017).